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Mass. Congressional Members Fear Denials Of Medical Deferral Of Deportations Amid Crisis

Massachusetts Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, along with Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, want more information from the Trump administration about its supposed reopening of a federal immigration process for seriously ill immigrants.

In a letter sent Thursday to Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the legislators expressed concerns about denial rates for what's commonly known as medical deferred action. This process allows non-U.S. citizens to request a deferral of their removal from the U.S. so they can remain to receive often life-saving medical treatment that is not available in their home country.

"We fear that USCIS has renewed consideration of medical deferred action requests in name only," they write. "As the seriousness of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic deepens, medical deferred action is as important as ever."

WBUR first reported the abrupt end of this federal process in August of last year.

Following congressional hearings and a month of public outcry over medical deferred action's unannounced termination, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ordered USCIS to reopen this option to immigrants with serious medical needs.

Since then, the lawmakers said, immigration attorneys have contacted their offices to express concerns over denials.

"Although USCIS has approved a handful of applications, it has denied or left pending indefinitely many others — both first-time requests and renewals. Moreover, some applicants who received summary denials last summer have received no notification from USCIS that the agency has reopened their cases."

The members of Congress have asked USCIS to approve medical deferred action requests in a timely manner during the pandemic and allow people to apply via email in light of the closure of field offices around the country.

"The United States cannot in good conscience force seriously sick or vulnerable individuals to travel, which also increases their risks," the letter stated.

The letter also asked USCIS for detailed information related to medical deferred action requests by May 1, after DHS told lawmakers they could not provide "formal data."

Shannon Dooling Twitter Reporter
Shannon Dooling is an immigration reporter at WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station.

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